The United States will impose "severe economic harm" on Russia and boost its military presence in Eastern Europe should Moscow invade Ukraine, the White House warned Monday, laying out the high stakes on the eve of talks between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
The US president will also quickly inform his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky of the details of his discussion with Putin, taking place by videoconference Tuesday, as tens of thousands of Russian troops were positioned near the Ukraine border, a senior US official told reporters.
The official said the White House does not know if Putin has made a decision to launch his military forces against Ukraine -- and stopped short of threatening direct use of American military force should he do so.
But Biden will make clear that there "will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward should (Russia) choose to go forward with a military escalation," the official said, on grounds of anonymity.
The United States and European allies are prepared to take "substantial economic countermeasures ... that would impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy" if Russia attacks, the official said.
In addition, Biden will make clear that if Putin "moved in, there would be an increasing request from eastern flank allies and a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises," they said.
Ukraine has estimated that Russia has around 100,000 troops near its border.
Map of Ukraine locating regions under separatist control and the Crimea, annexed by Russia
Map of Ukraine locating regions under separatist control and the Crimea, annexed by Russia AFP
Moscow denies any bellicose intentions and accuses the West of provocation, particularly with military exercises in the Black Sea, which it sees as part of its sphere of influence.
And Putin wants a promise from the West that Ukraine would not become a part of NATO, the transatlantic alliance created to confront the former Soviet Union.
A key question hanging over Tuesday's virtual summit is whether Putin might actually start a cross-border offensive, or is using the troops to pressure Biden for guarantees ex-Soviet Ukraine will never become a NATO launchpad.
The US official said that Biden will be speaking Monday with key European allies to coordinate their stances, and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would also talk to Zelensky beforehand.
Underscoring the close coordination between Washington and Kiev, Biden will brief Zelensky after the call, the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits combat positions and meets with servicemen at the frontline with Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region on the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits combat positions and meets with servicemen at the frontline with Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region on the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Handout Ukrainian presidential press-service/AFP
Asked if the United States was prepared to send troops into Ukraine if Russia attacks, the official said they are "not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of American military force."
Such talk, the official added, "would be precipitous conflict saber-rattling, and we'd prefer to keep those communications with the Russians private."
The Kremlin said earlier Monday that Moscow is not expecting "breakthroughs" from the call.
"Although our bilateral relations are still in a very sad state, there is still a revival; dialogue is beginning in some areas," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The US official said Biden and Putin have other issues to discuss, including "strategic stability," or lowering the nuclear threat between the two; cyberattacks which Washington accuses Moscow of fomenting; and cooperation on reducing Iran's nuclear threat.
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